She is Brigid of the *Tuatha Dé Danann, poet and daughter of the *Daghdha, goddess and protector of domestic animals whose feast day is Imbolg, the first day of spring.
She is Saint Brigid of Kildare, founder of the church of the oak tree whose feast day is the first day of spring known as Lá Féile Bríde (St Brigid’s Day).
Brigid, Goddess and Saint
In the country in the dead of night islanded amid a sea of sleep two hearts beat. While animals twitched and men dreamed, night hosted the unknown. Country roads away a midwife walked bringing herbs and prayers under a sea of stars.
They knew I was coming. There were signs, portents, shapes the in clouds. The moon shone bright the night she inched me in, ebbing and flowing like the tide until I fell to her shore, shingled my way to her breast for the milk that was mine.
Her name was Broicseach (Brishauk); slave to a druid called Dubhthach (Duvtok) who was known to be half way in and half way out of this world. He needed a slave he said,
“So, then I can be away from domestic underling tasks; be free to go to my wattles, my chants, portents, the magic I call for the healing of strife. That’s my task in life.”
He was a man of great things, speaking to kings who would hang on his every word so their worlds wouldn’t end. He chanted all day while she cooked and cleaned, swept and shone and when he was gone she’d scatter fresh straw on his floor with a song.
As a child I thought about fire. I saw men melting, shaping, wheels and swords. I saw women rub stones together. At night I dreamed about a fire burning in my heart. Sometimes I screamed,
breaking the silence of the night into red flames. Dubhthach went wild thinking his house was burning down. He called us to fetch water. He had not idea where the buckets were kept. But there was no fire.
“I was only dreaming” I said.
I had no idea the light in me was strong as it was. I was too young to know what was normal for a child to feel in the middle of the night. But over time he saw that I was kind. He saw me heal, he saw me pray to everything, to every task, in the milk I poured, in the beer I brewed, in the bread I made. And he took to my ways and kindled a fire, washed his own hair, and tidied his bed along with a prayer and was able to see his way to set my mother free.
It was thought I’d be married. They found me a man but I took the eye from his head for not looking at me right. If he looked he would have seen the way the road rose with me when I walked.
But he did see something I’ll give him that because I could feel his relief as he went away. So I didn’t marry and there’s nothing wrong with it. I wanted to be with the dawn, have time for the seasons, for Spring making a pain in my heart; the fledgling states of all things in their naked brokenheartedness. I shuddered for spring, for birds with their high filled out chests made for singing, their self importance; how the smallest bird can show the purity of one single life.
I sat under the stars and fasted.
I sat under the rain and fasted.
I was slashed by the cold in the mountains.
I lay naked under the burning sun.
I forged a sword with light from the heavens
and I gave in to a gentle stream
that would divide two fields
as nature had intended.
My smile became white stones
smoothed by the sea with salt and grit.
You can trust the surface of a stone
not to change for many lifetimes.
And The Stories Began
I sat with a dying man. He was old, deaf as a log, mute panic alive in his eyes. saying,
“How do I die?”
I picked a bunch of straw lying golden on the floor. I wove it into four seasons held together.
We held our four hands together. We changed straw into prayer that lorded it over loose skin and spindly bones; age lurking in every fold. The prayer went straight into the bright of his eyes, in a kiss he remembered, in a dance. And he told me to dance in rhythm with the waves. He told me to frighten like a storm. He told me to howl like the wind. He said it all with his eyes.
The next day was the first of spring. The ground opened for him like a mother’s arms and cradled him in just as everything was starting up again. He went into the ground like flowers when their time comes.
I have another story about a king who had a pet fox and a man who kept hens. The fox was a pet with plenty of tricks laden with cuteness that made the king laugh himself into forgetting there’s a killer in a fox. And so the fox killed the man’s hens and the man killed the fox and the few hens he had left were frightened out of laying. And the children stopped dancing and singing at his door for his spare eggs. He had nothing to give them and that broke his heart. And while his heart was breaking the king was going wild under his robes. But the king knew how to be clever with his rage so he said he’d spare the man’s life if he found a him a fox just like the one lost. It was a mean solution because the man would have to *plámás a new fox for years to get him to be like the other one. So, I told the man to catch a fox. I whispered a prayer in the creature’s ear and the fox put on a great show and the king laughed his head off and everyone heard him laugh so the man was allowed to go home. Then the new fox forgot all the tricks and went back to the wild and the king had to sit back down with his rage shaking under his robes while the hens began to lay again and the children came back singing and dancing in a ring.
Fire was my food. I would think about fire in the sun, in my heart. I believed in the sun because I could see it. I believed in the fire in my heart because I could feel it. When you believe in a thing, even a little thing, small as an ant, it will show you something you need to know like ants who tell us to work together as one. Animals showed me how to live simply. I was born into minding them and they minded me back. Their loyalty to nature pointed me to the half light in mankind; the shadows of things that would happen. They showed me flowers like little keys opening the earth into darkness and no light for some: Like poor *King Labhraidh (Lawrey) with his big horses ears and all he suffered from people laughing at him. He came to me crying and hurt by ridicule. I told him to put his head on my lap. I prayed over his big heart so he might have relief and his big ears disappeared. He had normal ears after that because prayers go straight to the kind spirit living in all things.
Life is hard for women too. Harder if you could measure it but you can’t. All you can do is tell the stories. Stories have their own way of measuring.
There was a girl swelling with child and instead of making smiles she made gossip. She had broken a promise to be chaste for her life when she was too young to know the strength of the nature inside her. It was going to be a terrible for her. She would be judged, slandered, even slaughtered by people who forgot that everything in nature makes love. I put my hand on her belly and I prayed for the right thing. She bled after that.
Prayer had begun to smile back at me like the day I was hanging my clothes. I had a pile in a bucket to hang on a branch and lo and behold the branch was a sunbeam before my very eyes. The clothes were dry in a minute which was no surprise since it was pure sunlight they were hanging on. I was folding them as quick as I was hanging them out. That was seen by one and so everyone heard along with Patrick who picked up a shamrock to show about Jesus and his Father and the Holy Spirit. Three leaves on the one stem.
Patrick had heard about me and sunbeams and the like and how people had taken me to their hearts and so he took me serious. Once he called me for help with a woman who was swelling with child. She said it was Patrick’s assistant Bron who was the father. Bron denied the claim and I could see Patrick had faith in the man so I said to the woman,
“If you’re telling lies your tongue will swell up.”
And it swelled and they wanted to burn her, child and all so I said,
“Who here has no lies? You have her terrified into lying” and I said, “She will have her child and that will bring its own heartbreak the way life does. But her child will be a good man and he wont want to do what you want to do to his mother today. And how do we know it wasn’t one of you who gave her the child. How do we know she is not protecting one of you with her love?”
And their heads went down fast for they all feared I’d have their tongues swelling. I could see that. She fell at my feet and I didn’t like it so I asked her to stand and look me in the eye and she did and I said, “Be a good mother.”
I made it my business after that to find a good recipe. I made it with my praying hands with kelp and sea lettuce, honey and fruit juice. It was a concoction to put stop to a mans seed from making its way in to the womb of a woman so she then wouldn’t have twenty children.
Patrick was baptising the people into his new church. He asked for my help and I said I would because I didn’t want the people to give it all up for the pillars that were coming. I told them they already knew the Holy Spirit. I told them not to be swallowing everything whole or we’d forget the animals and the birds and the fires in our souls that we didn’t want quenched. I was afraid of those new mornings when the horizon was a thick black line under an ominous cobalt streaking into grey, becoming itself then into a pale a blue; blue that was closer to the sky than the earth. Nothing was reflecting the earth anymore like the ways of summer when sea and sky breezed up matching shades in harmony. Instead it was becoming green and luminous as if monsters and churning snakes with cold shoulders lived below, spewing that thick black line dividing heaven and earth.
That’s how I knew the pillars were coming. So I made a church of my own to hold the stories; the little miracles of my life and I asked the holy spirit to keep the stories alive.
There was a wealthy chieftain in my home land of Kildare. I asked him for some land and though I knew his purse was tight I also knew he wouldn’t say no because he’d heard my stories and he wouldn’t have looked good saying no to such as myself. He saw my cloak was a right size. He said,
“You can have what the cloak covers.”
I suppose it was the prayers. I had prayed to the dew; the sacred dew that comes with the dawn. The dew filled up the cloak. The cloak spread for a mile till he was begging me to stop. So I asked it to stop with pity for his meanness. I had more than enough and an acorn is as good a start as any, taking years to grow but it grows. It’s as simple as that. Plant it in the earth, under the sun and it will tell the seasons. I planted an oak tree because I knew the straight pillars were coming. I knew the tree would tell us and it told us, to make a garden, tend to it softly, speak to the branches as they grow, spend time there every day, then place the garden in your soul.
When people heard about my cloak they cut up their old clothes though they didn’t have many and they left the rags out on the grass to be doused by the morning dew. They would wipe a sick woman’s forehead with the dew doused rags so she’d be blessed by the morning dew whether she was to go, or to stay and the people would tie the rags to a bush. Bushes all dressed up in colour like little girl churches. And I faded then under the pillars but the stories stayed on in the grass, in the hare, in the ditch, in the hearts of people in the river who had a word with me on my last night flowing through me, taking me closer.
Drawing by Holly Mullarkey, Galway : firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you Holly x
*Tuatha Dé Danann : (Tua De danann) People of the Goddess Danú.
*Daghdha (Dagda): God of the Tuatha Dé Danann whose name means Good God. He was generous with a huge appetite. He owned a magic cauldron that was never empty. *Plámás (Plawmaus): means empty flattery or sucking up.
*King Labhraidh Loingseach (Lawrey Lynchig) Mythical King of the Leinster people was said to have horses ears; a blemish that he suffered until he met Brigid who when he put his head on her lap his ears disappeared. She said “I see no blemish”. (Leinster is the south east province in Ireland)